[Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission Michael] Ravnitsky’s idea (which he’s careful to point out is his and not that of his employer) is to take the USPS’s biggest asset – it’s massive fleet of vehicles – and turn them into the most robust data collecting operation in the land. Right now each truck has a single purpose: to deliver mail. But fitted with an array of cheap sensors, mail trucks could wireless deliver real time information on weather, pollutants, traffic, road conditions, and even locate gaps in cell phone coverage and television signals.I find this idea to be very promising. Some may argue that the government has no need for such information and that private businesses, like Google, are doing a good enough job mapping traffic patterns and roads, or that this move would be an invasion of privacy - another step of Big Government - but I disagree.
Their regular routes cover most American roadways each and every day in predictable patterns, making it easy to establish a baseline map of normal conditions that would very clearly express anomalies. Accelerometers could log pothole locations and patches of rough road that require maintenance. Sensor arrays could even contribute to homeland security, acting as a first line in the detection of chemical, radiological, or biological threats. And of course, the USPS could make this data available to businesses and researchers – at a reasonable fee.
As ideas go, it’s not a bad one. Sensors tech gets cheaper all the time, and it derives added value from an existing system rather than requiring a new one. New York City did something similar when it required all cabs to begin carrying GPS locators, and that initiative has provided the city with reams of real time traffic data that has in turn led to changes in the way traffic is managed. A nationwide network could do the same thing, but it could reach far beyond traffic patterns to the sciences, national security, and a host of other fields.
I hope that this idea moves forward...